- Disambiguation: Some grammars refer to "adjective", when they mean adjectival
An adjective (/æʤektɪv/; sometimes single-word adjective) is a word used to describe nouns (including pronouns). For example a tall girl; a red car; a long meeting. An adjective is an adjectival phrase that happens to be a single word phrase.
English generally lacks adjective concord for either gender or number, unlike some other languages (particularly the romance languages). So in English we say "ten green bottles", but in French that's "dix bouteilles vertes" - where vertes is the feminine plural form of vert meaning green.
- 1 Position of adjectives
- 2 Order of adjectives
- 3 Comparison
- 4 Participles as adjectives
- 5 Adverbs as adjectives
- 6 Adjectives with prepositions
- 7 Nouns as adjectives
- 8 Get/become
- 9 Adjective suffixes
- 10 The + adjective
- 11 Collocations
- 12 Marked/unmarked
- 13 See also
- 14 References
Position of adjectives
Adjectives can go before a noun in attributive position or after it in predicative position. When they are used in predicative position they follow copular verbs such as "be", "seems" "looks" etc. He looks happy. This is nice. etc.
Order of adjectives
Adjectives must follow a certain order.
Opinion adjectives (good, brilliant, terrible, etc.) always come before descriptive adjectives (new, small, young, etc.): a good new restaurant; a brilliant young actor;
Descriptive adjectives usually follow the order of size, shape, age, temperature, colour, origin/nationality, material and purpose: a wooden table; a big round wooden table; an old French coffee table; a young Spanish artist; a pair of black silk stockings
- The order may be changed to emphasise or distinguish a particular attribute: a pair of silk, black stockings would distinguish it from a pair of nylon, black stockings, treating "black stockings" as a noun phrase qualified by "silk" or "nylon". Note the use of the comma.
Jonathan Miller's famous sketch involving "brand new cerulean blue gentlemen's corduroy trousers" notwithstanding, it is unusual to put more than three adjectives together. If necessary we would normally use a separate phrase: a pair of nice black riding boots made of good quality Spanish leather.
See main article Comparison.
- Forms: as ... as; -r; -er; -ier than/more ≠ less ... than:
She is as tall as I am;
Your house is older than mine;
English is easier to learn than most people think;
Your car is more ≠ less expensive than mine;
Note: The + comparative (+ noun) ..., the + comparative.
The bigger, the better;
The more money he earns, the less he saves;
- Forms: the' -est; the -iest, or the most ≠ the least ... : Your house is the oldest; English is the easiest language to learn; This one is the most ≠ the least expensive;
EXCEPTIONS: the monosyllabic adjectives real, right, wrong and like always use more (than) and the most for the comparative and superlative:
I’m often more right than wrong; It tastes more like almonds than hazelnuts; This one tastes the most like almonds;
- Note the following important irregular comparatives and superlatives:
- good – better – the best;
- bad – worse – the worst;
- little – less – the least;
Participles as adjectives
- The adjectives formed from present participles, such as interesting, boring, worrying, etc., describe the people or things that cause feelings: It’s a boring film; a worrying situation;
- The adjectives formed from past participles, such as interested, bored, worried, etc., are used to describe how people feel or are affected:
- I’m bored;
- I’m worried;
- It’s a very interesting programme and I’m always interested in the subjects they talk about;
Adverbs as adjectives
- Some adjectives are also adverbs (with similar or different meanings, depending on each case):
- a hard job – we have to work hard (similar meaning);
- a fast car goes fast (similar meaning);
- a pretty girl – it’s pretty difficult (different meaning = quite);
Adjectives with prepositions
- be + adjective + preposition:
be afraid of; be aware of; be worried about; be good at; etc.
- be + measure + adjective:
He’s 25 years old; She’s 1,80 m tall; It’s 72 cm long;
Nouns as adjectives
- We can make some nouns into adjectives by joining the nouns with a hyphen and adding -ed: a girl with brown eyes = a brown-eyed girl;
- We use get/become with an adjective or a comparative to give the idea of change or increase:
get cold – be cold – get colder; It's getting cold. - It's getting colder.
See main article Suffix.
- Many adjectives end in –ful, but never in –full: beautiful, helpful, useful, etc.;
- There are many adjectives ending in -ic (phonetic, despotic, problematic, etc.) and just as many ending in -ical (phonological, tyrannical, typical, etc.). In some cases, both forms exist with the same meaning (poetic/poetical')'. There is no rule, so check each case in the dictionary;
Note: In some cases both forms exist but with a very different meaning:
- The economic forecast for the next quarter is not very good; These new Japanese cars are very economical because they use very little petrol (not expensive);
- I’ll never forget that historic moment when Armstrong stepped out on the moon; There are so many historical places to visit in Spain;
- Other examples include: classic vs classical; comic vs comical; economic vs economical; electric vs electrical; historic vs historical; magic vs magical; politic vs political;
- Several adjectives of English or French origin end in -able, while those of Latin origin end in -ible. The first group is far more frequent:
- probable, comfortable, reliable;
- possible, feasible, accessible;
The + adjective
Although adjectives are normally followed by nouns, in some cases, when we talk about groups of people, especially in the context of their social or physical condition, we can use the + adjective - thus turning the adjective into a group noun: the old; the poor; the rich; the unemployed; the young; the blind (see below); etc.;
We can also use this structure when talking about nationalities if the adjective finishes in -ch or -sh: the Dutch; the French; the Spanish; the English; etc. (capitalized first letter for nationalities).
We always use a plural verb after these adjectives:
- The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer;
- The French have their patés; the Germans have their sausages, the British have their beer and the Spanish have their cured ham;
Note that it is not now politically correct to use expressions such as the blind, the disabled, etc. Preferred expressions are visually-impaired people and people with disabilities, and so on: With the new computer technologies visually-impaired people now have access to more information and services, at least in the richer societies.
See main article Collocation.
- adjective + noun: a positive attitude; a rough guess; a slight misunderstanding;
- adverb + adjective: awfully sorry; highly unlikely; quite difficult/hungry/interesting; really great.
See main article Markedness.
Some of the adjectives used for measurements, such as the word pairs tall/short, old/young or good/bad can be considered "marked" or "unmarked" depending on the use we give them. Unmarked means we use it as a general quality. The adjective with the "highest" value of the pair (tall, not short; old, not young; heavy, not light) is the one we usually (but not always) use for asking questions: How tall is he? (*) - How old is she? (*) or for talking about the general quality: We need to know how heavy it is. (*) - I'm not sure how good he is. (*).
- Soanes, C. "A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!" Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 10th October 2012.
- Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage Oxford University Press 1980 ISBN 0-19-431197 x
- Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage, p. 331. Oxford University Press ISBN 0 19 431197 X (paperback)
- Thorne, John Peter: "A Note on the Indefinite Article" in Language Form and Linguistic Variation: Papers Dedicated to Angus McIntosh, p- 478. Ed. Anderson, John A. John Benjamins Publishing, 1982 At Google Books